OK, exercise! Boost my mood!

By exercising, I'll boost my mood!

I’ve written before about the many benefits of exercise, including brain health benefits. One of the main reasons that I exercise is to boost my mood. I have a tendency to be a gloomy person. If there’s a dark side to a situation, I’ll find it. Likewise, I hardly ever expect things to go well – any things. It’s always a pleasant surprise when things go right, or the way they’re supposed to. I exercise to counter my natural inclination.

I’m a natural pessimist

Here’s one example. I recently received a notice from the IRS that my business had filed its tax return late and was being assessed a hefty penalty. Of course, the return was not filed late and I had documents to prove it. But I did not expect to be able to reverse the penalty. I called to speak to an agent, of course and had to wait an hour for the call back. I was on tenterhooks the whole time I was waiting. Distracting myself with menial tasks helped somewhat, but I was still sweating when my phone rang.

Even though I did not expect a good outcome, I was pleasant to the agent and figured out how to fax (yes, FAX! – who has a fax machine these days?) copies of the documentation to her while I was on the phone. To my complete surprise, she agreed that the penalty should not have been assessed and removed it. Talk about things going right! 

But in the normal course of things, I expect that clients will cancel their appointments. And that their checks will bounce. That hasn’t happened yet, thank goodness.

My mood remains upbeat – exercise does that!

My mood, though, remains upbeat. Even when I expect things to go wrong, I try to have a smile on my face. And I attribute my ability to maintain a positive attitude to exercise. The Cleveland Clinic has shown that exercise causes elevated levels of endorphins, those hormones that improve your sense of well-being to be released in your body when it’s under stress.

A lower rate of depression and anxiety is attributed to exercise. Also, in the long term, people who exercise tend to have more low-key responses to stressful events. I’m firmly convinced that exercise helps keep me in a happier state and, therefore, more resilient. 

Exercise helps reduce depression

Another study showed that being active can help with depression specifically. The effects of a combined meditation and exercise routine were studied as the program related to depression: Twice a week, people with severe depression took part in 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise over the course of eight weeks.

The result? Improved mood and decreased depression. (They tried this same method on patients who weren’t depressed, and they felt better, too.) Notably, the participants experienced neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) — something that’s typically inhibited when someone has depression. Specifically, the growth of new neural cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and mood) plays an integral part in how your mind fights depression and controls mood — and aerobic exercise can greatly increase the number of cells produced there.

So, I’ll keep on exercising. It will boost my mood and my family will like having me around more.

I changed the time I run – What happened?

Changing the time I ran really made a difference.

I’ve written before that no matter what time of day you exercise, you’ll still get benefits. The important thing is that you exercise! And that’s true. My preference is to exercise early in the day because I feel so energized afterward. I’ve had to adjust to working out in the late afternoon, after work, though. But I had to switch my schedule last week on a running day to go into work later. I thought it would be interesting to see the effect of changing the time I ran. I usually run twice a week on the treadmill, because I think running outside is even worse than running on the treadmill. The only thing that makes running even tolerable is listening to a fast-moving action novel. No self-help or memoir for the treadmill. If I’m engrossed in the story, then I’m not ticking away the seconds on the treadmill timer.

Why run if it’s so hard?

Why do I run at all if it’s so hard for me? I like to play sports with my dogs – and running agility is just that – running. So I run for endurance and to try to be in the right place to give my dog the cues he needs.

Changing the time I ran made a big difference

My afternoon runs had been getting steadily faster and the intervals longer. The total time remained the same, but in those 20 minutes, the time I took to slow down between fast intervals was less. What a shocker, then, when I ran in the morning last Thursday! Changing the time I ran made a big difference in how I felt. 

Running early was so much harder than I thought it would be. My legs felt like lead pipes. My lungs were burning inside of 5 minutes. I couldn’t go as fast as I could just a few days before. The incline was excruciating. So I backed off. I ran more slowly. I shortened the fast interval. I decreased the incline. And I made arrangements to run early every Thursday, because the higher levels of Agility are run early in the day. If I’m going to be able to compete, I have to be able to run early. So I’ll train for it. I’m changing the time I run to get ready for competition.

Time of day actually does matter

As it turns out, though, the time of day does seem to matter in the actual results you might see. A recent study by researchers at Skidmore College showed that women who exercised in the morning had greater fat loss. Women who trained later in the evening gained more upper body strength and power. There was little difference in performance improvement in men.

All exercise will give you benefits for our healthy aging such as heart health, better sleep and improvements in your mood. But if you ladies want to lose more fat, try working out early!

A specific exercise for a specific memory?

Aerobic exercise to boost certain memories?

It could be that in the future, if you want to remember your shopping list at the grocery store without having to check your phone, you would do a specific group of exercises! Way, way in the future, so don’t get your hopes up. But new research has shown that certain types of exercise helped study participants in remembering certain types of data. We do know that exercise has benefits for our brain and mental health, but this is much more specific than we had previously thought. The thinking that if we do a specific exercise for a specific memory boost is remarkable.

Exercise improves brain health

It’s been shown that exercise improves memory on a general level, even after a single workout. And, on a long-term basis, exercise improves overall brain health. And studies have shown that over time exercise is associated with a reduced risk of brain health problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, both concerns for our healthy aging.

Different feelings after different workouts

I know that I feel differently after a run, for example, than after a Pilates session. I’m more energized (and sweaty) and outwardly happy after doing my run / walk workout. After a Pilates session, I feel calm, with a happy buzz. But I must admit that I hadn’t noticed specific memory improvements. I know that right after a workout I can remember some things better but hadn’t noted which “things!”

Correlation between exercise and memory

This research study by Dartmouth, published in Nature, delves into the correlation between exercise and memory. This was a relatively small study with only 113 participants, but the results are interesting. Fitbit data was analyzed after participants were given various types of memory tests post-workout. Researchers looked for patterns between those results and the workouts the participants did. 

Not surprisingly, the study showed that overall the more active people had better memories than the non-active people. But it also showed that high-intensity exercise was correlated with good performance on the “spatial-learning task” (remembering the positions of shapes on a screen). “Low-to-moderate-intensity” cardio activity, like going for a walk, was associated with improved “naturalistic recall” (remembering a narrative of events). And people who performed better on the foreign-language test “tended to be less active,” the report added, while participants who did well on free recall and naturalistic recall were more active.

So, this study supports previous research on exercise and memory, but it also presents a focus for future work needed. Could there be a specific exercise for a specific memory? Time and research will tell. I’ll be looking forward to reading the results.

I needed to release frustration

Pissed off! I got an unwelcome piece of mail a couple of days ago and was totally steamed by it. My company received a notice from the IRS about a penalty charged for late filing of a return. I knew that the return was filed on time, so I was angry. That turned into an overall bad mood. I knew that I needed to calm down to deal with this (in a day or two) because I had to give my 14-year-old dog a bath that day. I had to be calm and gentle with my dog. Not rip his legs off as I felt like in the moment. What’s the solution? A really intense workout to help release frustration and anger.

Kick boxing to the rescue

I chose a short (because I had things to do, obviously) but intense kick boxing program. Pump up the heart rate, get the sweat going and release the frustration.

The workout started with a warmup to let my muscles know they were going to have to do some work. And then eased into punches and kicks..

Mission accomplished

When that half hour was done, I was a sweaty mess, but I achieved my goal to workout to release the frustration. My mood was very much improved and I was able to give Tango a nice calming bath.

How does that work?

Side kick in a Turbo Jam workout

You’ve heard the phrase, “runner’s high?” Same thing works with other exercise that targets the cardiovascular system. Raise your heart rate for a sustained period of time, and your body releases endorphins. Those endorphins attach to your opioid receptors, causing a boost to your mood

So, my immediate mission was accomplished – I wouldn’t kill Tango during his bath – but I also did other good things for myself. I’ve written that exercise not only improves your mood but also has other benefits for our healthy aging: it improves memory, helps you sleep better, and improves optimism and resilience. Not only does a great workout release frustration and anger immediately, but it has other longer-lasting benefits.

All’s well

I dealt with the IRS and the agent I spoke with removed the penalty. I bathed my dog. And I was able to release frustration and anger. A good day.

No. It depends. A while. Answers to goal-specific fitness questions.

When will I see Exercise Results?

When do you see exercise results? It depends... And everyone is different.

“I have a wedding in June. Will I be skinny by then?” “How long ‘til I fit into Size 6 jeans?” “When will I see a six-pack?” Were you laughing when you read those questions? Me too. And yet, deep down, I kind of wondered when I’d see exercise results all those years ago when I lost weight. By now, you know that “No,” “It depends,” and “A while” are the answers. It turns out that “It depends” is the answer to quite a few goal-specific fitness questions. 

Goals are key

Having specific goals, committing to a program and sticking with that program is the sure path to success in reaching a fitness goal. For example, if you want to lose 5 pounds in a month, experts agree that it’s totally doable. Reduce the number of calories you consume (a food journal helps with this), increase calories burned (an exercise program will help here), make sure you’re hydrated, get enough sleep, and reduce stress. That’s the formula. Of course, it’s never so cut and dry. 

Our emotions get in the way. We eat because of stress. And we eat when we’re happy. When it comes to exercise – there’s never a good time to do it. Or we just don’t feel like it. So, having real, achievable, specific goals is the key to keeping on track.

Everyone’s different

We’re human. And as humans, our bodies react differently to the food we eat and exercises we do. Exercise results are different for everybody. My body reacts differently than yours. Your body may not retain water the way mine does – be grateful. Or your muscles may respond more quickly to exercise than mine. Everyone’s different. So – it depends when you’ll see those results you want.

A real time frame … wait for it

But, there is sort of a time frame on when you can expect to see some results from your hard work. “When performed appropriately, exercise can lead to physiological changes in about eight to 12 weeks for most people,” Chris Gagliardi, MS (an ACE-certified personal trainer) says. “This does not mean that everyone will respond to exercise in the same way. Some people may see and feel results in less than eight to 12 weeks, and for others, it may take more time.” 

Don’t exercise for the outward results

It’s such a long time to see any results, that it’s important not to focus on these physiological changes. Remember all the other benefits that come from exercise. Remember that even Khloe Kardashian exercises for the invisible benefits! If I have to wait 2 to 3 months to see any results, there had better be other benefits to this whole healthy living thing! 

The biggest reason for me to exercise is the brain boost I get, and how much better I feel emotionally afterward.

Get up – get going – get it done

Get it done – no matter what it is

Get it done!

If you like to get stuff that  you don’t especially enjoy doing out of the way early, like I do, then this is for you! The great Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” And if you think about it, that’s probably true. And productivity expert Brian Tracy has expanded on Twain’s saying in his book, Eat That Frog. When I can, I try to abide by that precept – get up, get going, get it done. That way I have more time to do what I really want to do later on.

If you don’t like to exercise, you probably won’t do it

If you hate to exercise – I’ve said it before – you’re not going to do it. But if you find an exercise program that you don’t mind, and you like the music, the choreography, and the instructor, then you’re more likely to do it. If you have that program queued up, then you don’t have to waste time looking for it and you can just jump in. And if you don’t have anything else scheduled, you can exercise early and get it done. My favorite time to exercise is early – what a great feeling to get it done.

Taking action early = fulfillment

This maxim can translate to other areas of your life too. When you see yourself as someone who takes action, and takes it early on, there’s a real sense of fulfillment. It’s not enough to see yourself in a certain way, though, you have to take the steps to get it done. 

Perfectionist? Let it go

That could mean easing up on your perfectionist leanings. I know – you like things to be “just so.” But if you keep tweaking a project, it will never be finished. And done is almost always better than perfect. Naturally, check for typos and other obvious errors, but as a chilly heroine would say, let the rest go.

Other productivity professionals say, “Be dumber and care less.” I change that to “grow a thicker skin.” Of course we care about our work. Sometimes that shows up as, “perhaps I should tweak this sentence so people won’t think ‘X’ about me.” My rule has been to not overtly offend anyone, but if I have something important to say, then say it. You can be a genius, use all the high-falutin’ vocabulary, and finish a project in 3 weeks. Or you can just say something plainly and get it done. And once that thing is done, you’ll get a sense of accomplishment! It’s done! Finished! And I did it! So happy! What a boost to your optimism and resilience.

How to get it all done

Sounds good, right? But how to get it done efficiently? First, identify the project. Next, identify the steps you need to take. Third, flesh out those steps. And finally, get up and get going.

Enjoy everything in moderation – even wine

Surprising place for provoking thought

Reading about healthy aging at a tire store!
Health reading at a tire store

I had to get new tires for my car this week. It would take an hour but I was prepared with a book. There was an array of Wine Spectator magazines on the table in the waiting room. Surprising magazine choice at a tire store! I picked up the top copy and started to leaf through it. There was an article about wine and its health benefits, so I started reading. Going right along with what I’ve been saying for years, it turns out that enjoying wine in moderation is not detrimental and can actually provide some benefits. Enjoy everything in moderation – even wine.

But wait – the WHO says no alcohol

The World Health Organization decreed at the beginning of 2023 that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe. The paper cites previous studies in which alcohol was considered a cancer-causing agent. There was no study linking specific amounts of alcohol to cancer, however, merely the potential cancer-causing risk of alcohol consumption. It could be that the WHO considers that it may be all too easy for moderate consumption to become excessive consumption.

Some studies have shown benefits

But a recent study determined that moderate drinkers live as long as people who never drink. So, why not enjoy! And the Mayo Clinic has observed that the polyphenols in red wine may help protect the lining of the blood vessels in the heart. This could be the reason that red wine has been touted for its heart-healthy benefits.

The flavanols in wine have also been implicated in reducing cognitive decline and a reduced risk of stroke in moderate drinkers – which we all want for our healthy aging. Yes, the flavanols can also be found in other foods, but why not enjoy the wine? 

Enjoying with friends has other benefits

Wine, enjoyed with friends, has benefits beside the physical ones.
Wine, enjoyed with friends, has benefits beside the physical ones.

Another point to consider is that we often enjoy wine in the company of friends and family. Getting together in a social group is not just fun – fun planning and reconnecting with friends – but it also increases our resilience and optimism. Why not have a wine tasting at your next get-together. Tasting wine critically with friends will combine all of the benefits of good wine, good food and good friends.

Enjoy everything … in moderation – has been my motto for years. I never deny myself anything I really want. Chocolate cake? Pizza? You bet. I plan for it and that could make the enjoyment even greater. A new purse? New shoes? If I see something I really want, then I figure out a way to make it happen. I don’t splurge, but I enjoy.

So – enjoy everything. Even wine – in moderation.

Mindset matters

Start your day with a positive thought: "I get to play with my dog today!"
I play with my dog and he helps me!

Try something new tomorrow when you first wake up. Smile. That’s it. And maybe think something positive. Something good. Many days I say, “I get to play with my dog today.” Or perhaps, “I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing 1,000 words today.” You might realize, “I get to see my kids and have a great dinner tonight.” If you set yourself up in a positive way, your whole day will be better. Mindset matters.

Anything positive

That positive thought will set the tone for your whole day. Think about it – if you start out cranky, then even the most minor thing could make your day worse. Start out in a bad mood and a little spill could cause you to be angry all day. But if your mindset is positive you’re more likely to just shrug off that little spill, wipe it up and move on. So anything positive will help your day.

A while ago I wrote about 3 morning rituals that can help your day. Having a positive thought first thing could be the most important. The Dalai Lama said, “Just one small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”

Increase optimism and resilience

That positive energy from your one thought will cause you to become optimistic, and increase your resilience. And, you’ll be happier. All with that one thought. You’ve created positive energy for your day.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that every day is all rainbows and unicorns. We all have to deal with everyday realities. Work has to get done. Articles (like this one) have to be written. We think about our friends who are going through tough times and commiserate with them. Try looking at things from another angle. Approach a problem looking for a positive outcome. And our own mindset matters. A positive mindset will surely help us along those bumpy roads.

Even the Mayo Clinic advocates positive thinking. As we get more used to positive thinking, we become more optimistic. And being more optimistic is key in managing our stress. If you’ve been in the habit of denigrating yourself – “my hair is terrible.” Or “I have no writing talent,” get over it! As I’ve said before – be nice to you! If you’re positive to yourself that, too, will extend to others.

Start your day positively. Because mindset matters.

True happiness may not be what you think

When you think of being “happy,” what comes to mind? Is it smiling ear-to-ear? Or a big belly laugh? That expression of happiness, though, is not really sustainable. It’s impossible to have mind-blowing joy every minute. We need to sleep sometimes, right? And at this stage of life, happiness should be sustainable and not exhausting. To me, happiness is contentment raised up a notch or two.

true happiness

True happiness is the feeling you get when all is right in your world. When you see beauty and can actually pause and reflect on it for a moment. Knowing that you can share that moment with family and friends and they’ll understand your happiness in the beauty you see. My vision of happiness also revolves around the idea of positivity going forward. Thinking of being happy not just now but in the future. Our resilience grows from that idea of true happiness.

Lots of moments of joy

These days, moments of joy occur when my dogs “get it!” When the dogs seem to have light bulbs above their heads. If Simon sits and actually stays until I tell him it’s okay to move. That’s a huge moment of joy for me. I know that my training is paying off and if I enter a competition, then we’ll have a prayer of succeeding. Lesser moments of joy occur in just sitting with my dogs, though. I don’t need outside validation to be happy with them. But it’s not just my dogs that make me deep-down happy – seeing the deep purple crocus poke their heads out of the soil fills my soul. I choose happiness every day.

Happiness may have a goal orientation

I’m looking to the future in happiness. I’m preparing to be happy then, too. My goals are part of the foundation for future happiness. As writer Christopher Boyce puts it, “have goals but be prepared to let them go.” Think about your future self – how you want to live, what you want to do. Make goals to achieve that life. And, of course, set your intermediate goals to get you there. But if you’re not happy when you’re working toward those goals, set new ones. Life is a journey. If we’re not happy at any point for sustained periods, we need to change course. 

True Happiness May Take a While

Years ago, my sister and I owned an RV, stored in Marathon, Florida. We would take separate vacations there, driving down from our home near Chicago with our dogs. It’s a 24-hour drive, so we each took 3 days to get there – essential with dogs. No, the drive was not fun. It was sometimes nerve-wracking, but the end result was worth it. So, sometimes thinking ahead a little bit makes the unhappy part insignificant. We overcome obstacles to get to that happy future. And part of that future is being as fit and healthy as possible to enjoy it.

Tears Along the Way

Happiness is multi-faceted. There’s bad mixed in with mostly good. There may be tears along the way, but an overall happy life can sustain setbacks, grief and sadness. When you’re content at the end of most days – isn’t that happiness?

Your body is not ready for the time change

No one is ready for the time change, but you can mitigate its effect on your body.
No one is ready for the time change, but you can mitigate its effect.

Get ready! Daylight Saving Time starts this weekend. So, not only do we start off sleep-deprived, but we actually lose another hour of sleep. Your body is not ready for the time change. The Centers for Disease Control has a guideline for the number of hours of sleep we all need each night, but I don’t personally know anyone who is successful in getting that amount of sleep. And yet sleep is essential for our physical and mental health. Lack of quality sleep has been linked to obesity and depression. It’s also easier to bounce back from all the little things that go wrong every day when we start the day refreshed.

Is your room dark enough?

Like most Americans, I start each day feeling groggy and wooly-brained. My brain churned for a while before I fell asleep, and, while I don’t have a sleep tracker, I know that my sleep was not as beneficial as it could be. A darkened room and turning screens off early are effective, but just to a certain extent. 

Get ready for jet lag without going anywhere

Changing our clocks for Daylight Saving Time is like traveling to a different time zone. So we’re going to feel the effects of jet lag to some degree. We’re all going east one time zone this weekend. So, according to Dr. Innessa Donskoy, sleep specialist at Advocate Children’s Hospital, we can prepare our bodies for that time change as if we were traveling. (It may be a little late now, but remember this for the fall.)

Dr. Donskoy says that to mitigate the physical effects of the time change, we should expose ourselves to light a few minutes earlier each day. Starting tomorrow, wake up fifteen minutes earlier and turn your light on. Actually open your eyes to the blinding glare and just start moving on with your day. This will allow your body to get ready for the time change.

And plan now to do something useful with those extra few minutes you’ll get the next few days. Get in a few more minutes of exercise. If the weather allows, take your dog for an extra-long walk. Write a chapter in that book you’re working on. Or read a chapter! You can log an  entry in your journal. Whatever you choose to do, do it! Get your body ready for the time change. Even if you can’t build up to the time change, get up earlier tomorrow. Or, if it’s too late to get ready for this spring, be kind to yourself. Take your dog for a walk anyway.